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Hallo again to all.

This week many members of the Anglican Communion—especially in places where they read weblogs—are casting their eyes toward Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where the primates of Anglican provincial churches will take counsel together about the nature, limits and future shape of our life together. For some time we have been praying for their safe travel to and from the meeting, and for constructive clarity and charity at it. We have not heard a single mention of the meeting (or a primate) in any of the parishes we have attended over the last several months, however. And while the blogosphere and church papers will be full of prediction and analysis over the coming days, we expect that parochial life will continue to be a joyful round of font-dipping, chalice-sipping, lesson-reading and surplice-ironing this week and next as it is all weeks.

It was by chance that we happened yesterday on the following description of Russian Orthodoxy before the Revolution by the too-little-known pioneer of Orthodox-Anglican relations, Nicholas Zernov:

Like the Imperial Eagle, the Russian Church had two heads, one representing the ecclesiastical bureaucracy presided over by the Synod, the other the parochial clergy and laity who were faithful to the Orthodox ideal of the Christian community ('Sobornost'), guided and protected by the Holy Spirit. The contrast between the external and internal life of the Russian Church was baffling.*

This reality grew out of forces peculiar to Russian secular and religious history, and it would be simplistic to draw a too-direct parallel to Anglican life. But recent Anglican news, particularly in connection with various high-level, expensive, travel-intensive meetings over the last decade, has underscored a contrast between the external and internal life of our communion that we also find baffling. In an age when large corporations and international bodies use teleconferencing in their efforts to streamline expenses and to 'shrink the footprint', we wonder whether repeated meetings with careful scripts and curious composition are really furthering the spread of the Gospel and the upbuilding of the Kingdom of God. The idea of meeting in international conferences to resolve church disputes is still a relatively new one for Anglicans; we have only done it a baker's dozen of times in the Lambeth Conferences, and often wth a completely new list of attendees each time. We are learning how to live as a communion even as we grow throughout the world and encounter fresh changes and chances in the process.

Evensong in Westminster AbbeyTaking a cue from that old imperial eagle, as we look forward to the Primates' Meeting in a place with an Arabic name that means 'House of Peace', we also look back to a series of recent meetings of bishops and theologians that built on a direct path of many decades of preparation. It has received much less worldwide attention, but its mandate concerned a larger number of people; it gave us great hope for the healing of the Body of Christ. These meetings produced the Cyprus Agreed Statement by the International Commission for Anglican-Orthodox Theological Dialogue. The statement was 17 years in the making, and it addresses bedrock matters of ecclesiology and sacramental theology. We can't wait to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest our copies. Although it is not yet available online, it will be referred to the local churches of the Anglican Communion for our consideration, and then to the Lambeth Conference next year.

In order to consider and respond seriously to movements of ecumenical promise such as the release of the Cyprus Agreed Statement, we must learn anew to interact with other Anglicans in trustworthy honesty. Our groundbreaking exchanges with other Christians have the likelihood of becoming a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal if we cannot live meaningfully and generously on our own. The danger if we do not learn to do so is clear and present, but the promise of reinvigorated life together is more exciting as a gift from God that we need only to claim as our own. The words of a distant relative who made his name as an anti-separatist Anglican ring in our ears this week:

Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck, and to provide for our posterity, is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. For this end, we must be knit together, in this work, as one man. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection. We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others' necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make others' conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.**

See you next week in what may be a brave new communion, but in which we hope the fonts will still be filled and the bells will still peal to call us to worship.

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Last updated: 11 February 2007

* From The Russian Religious Renaissance in the Twentieth Century (New York: Harper and Row, 1967), pp 36-37.

** John Winthrop, A Model of Christian Charity (1630).

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